International Social Studies Project
in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa has been the
site of a long, complex, and often hostile relationship between the Boers
(also known as Afrikaners), the British, and local peoples.
Race has always been a powerful force in South Africa, dating back
to the original settlement of the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch.
Early in the 19th century Great
Britain took over the Cape Colony. By
1834, many Boers began to trek northward to escape British rule. As they moved inland, the Boers fought with Zulus and other
local peoples, took their land, and established the republics of the
Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
By the 1870s and 1880s, the British, as they moved inland, also
fought great battles against the Zulus.
In the mid-1880s rich deposits of
diamonds and gold were discovered. As
a result, hundreds of thousands of British and other Europeans came to the
Cape and the Transvaal Republic to seek their fortune.
Great Britain and British settlers
defeated the Boer republics in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
In 1910, Great Britain combined its own colonies of the Cape and
Natal with the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to form the Union of
South Africa. Under the new
constitution, black South Africans were denied the right to vote. In most of the country, they were also deprived of the right
to own land. In 1912, South
Africa's repression of its nonwhite population led to the creation of the
African National Congress (ANC), which became the primary voice for black
equality and freedom.
South Africa's racism acquired
international condemnation after the National Party, dominated by
Afrikaners, came to power in 1948, following whites-only elections.
Over the next several decades South Africa's racist policies, known
as apartheid, were institutionalized.
Segregation of blacks, coloreds (those of mixed race), and Asians
was reinforced, the limited nonwhite political representation in
Parliament was eliminated, and opposition to segregation was harshly
Apartheid laws included, but
were not limited to:
Population Registration Act, which classified South Africans at birth as
black, colored, Asian, or white
Land Acts of 1913 and 1936, which set aside 13 percent of South Africa's
land as tribal homeland for South Africa's blacks, who made up 70 percent
of its population
Group Areas Act, which enforced residential segregation
Pass Laws, which controlled nonwhite movement into white areas and
Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, which sanctioned segregation at
beaches, libraries, entertainment venues, and all other public facilities
Mixed Marriage and Immorality Acts, which prohibited marriages and sex
a host of restrictions on the press and on political activities.
From the late 1940s through
the late 1980s, South Africa was a segregated country whose white minority
repressed its nonwhite majority.
Banned from 1960 to 1990, the
African National Congress mobilized considerable internal and foreign
opposition to apartheid, as did the Pan African Congress (PAC) and other
groups. Internationally, many
countries condemned South Africa, isolated it from most international
activities, and enacted economic sanctions against it.
to apartheid was strengthened by the repressive acts carried out by the
South African government. These
included the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in which 69 black demonstrators
were killed by the South African police; the trial and imprisonment of ANC
leader Nelson Mandela in 1964; the 1976 Soweto uprising, initiated by
black school children, in which several hundred blacks died; the 1977
death of prominent black activist Steven Biko while in police custody; and
the 1985 uprising that took place throughout South Africa during which
almost 300 blacks were killed.
Until the mid-1980s, South Africa
gave little indication that it was ready to end apartheid.
Then, in 1985, influenced by the economic sanctions imposed by most
of the outside world, growing internal violence, and long-term demographic
trends, the South African government began to change its mind.
the Mixed Marriage and
Immorality Acts were overturned. In
1986, President P.W. Botha declared
South Africa had "outgrown the outdated colonial system of
paternalism, as well as the outdated concept of apartheid." In 1990,
the new president, Frederick W. de Klerk, ended the ban on the ANC and
freed Nelson Mandela.
Later in 1990, de Klerk declared it was time to
negotiate a new constitution that would eliminate apartheid.
Soon afterwards, Mandela called off the ANC's armed struggle, the
Separate Amenities Act was overturned, the National Party opened its ranks
to all races, and the Lands and Group Areas Acts were rescinded.
In 1994, South Africa held the
first multiracial elections in its history.
The ANC won, and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the country's first
black president. He confronted
many difficult problems. Social
and economic discrimination remained in many forms, and government
structures - at the national, provincial, and local levels - had to be
reorganized under a new, nonracial constitution.
Of great significance for South
Africa, and for the rest of the world, was the fact that Mandela led the way
toward national reconciliation between the races.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Archbishop Desmond Tutu
was formed to bring to light the atrocities committed during the apartheid
era. Pardons were given to
those who confessed to their crimes.
Toward the end of his five-year
term, Mandela announced his intention to retire from politics. His Vice President, Thabo Mbeki, was elected leader of the
ANC. In 1999, the ANC again won
the elections and Mbeki became the country's second post-apartheid
president. He entered office
facing a number of significant challenges, including extreme inequality and
rampant crime. He has, however,
pledged to deepen the country's nonracial democracy and ensure economic
opportunity for the previously disadvantaged groups in the population.
From Africa in
Transition, produced by the Southern Center for International Studies
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